It's been a year since Valve announced the launch of the Team Fortress 2 Mann-conomy update, which let players pay money for in-game items like weapons, and of course, hats. Community modellers could submit new weapons, and pick up a share of the profits if their item made it into the game. It was a huge, game-changing update, and its success is likely one of the biggest reasons behind Valve's decision to make Team Fortress 2 free.
So one year on, how has the Mann-conomy changed Team Fortress 2? One thing's obvious. There are quite a lot of hats in TF2 these days. Team Fortress 2's transition into a hat wearing simulator with some added shooting is almost complete, and it's easy to forget now that hats were the most controversial and surprising part of the update. Controversial because of their hefty price tags. Surprising because of the enormous number of players happy to pay up for a smart piece of virtual headwear.
It's fair to say that the community's goodwill towards Valve was an important factor in the update's success. Valve have been adding major updates to the game for free since launch, and for those who get Team Fortress 2 as part of the Orange Box, it's turned into an exceptional deal. Players pouring dozens of hours a week into the game were happy to spend a lot of money to play with new items, and show support for a game they loved. This has allowed Valve to get away with more than you might expect. The addition of crates, which can only be unlocked with a bought key, still feels like a mean addition.
Still, the Mann-conomy has almost certainly been a huge success financially, not just for Valve, but for community members who design the new items that sell in the Mann-Co Store. The creators of the Polycount Pack made a fortune. The five community members scored paychecks between $39,000 and $47,000 after just two weeks of the items going on sale. The amounts were too large to be processed by Paypal, so Valve flew out some of the item creators to Valve HQ to pay them in person.
One story that recently appeared on Reddit tells the story of one community member who says he made $15 from sales of the Southern Hospitality when it was released with the Engineer update. Pleased to have his item featured in the game, he emailed Valve boss Gabe Newell to say thanks. Next month, he got a cheque for more than $5,000. Newell had apparently bought close to ten thousand wrenches.
The Mann-conomy has also been used for charitable purposes. A series of items went on sale earlier this year to raise money for the victims of the Japan earthquake. $430,543.65 went to the Japanese Red Cross as a result.
The Mann-conomy is here to stay, and it's growing beyond the borders of TF2. Steam trading now lets players swap hats for unredeemed Steam games. Third party publishers are starting to add their support. By the second year Manniversary, we could be trading TF2 hats for Deus Ex: Human Revolution DLC.
Now, Team Fortress 2 is free. Valve have used TF2 as a testing ground for a lot of new ideas, not least the addition of micro-transactions. The ongoing TF2 beta regularly tests mad new weapons. But unlike most mad experiments, TF2 has turned out surprisingly well. the explosion of new items cluttering up everyone's backpacks makes your average TF2 server a confusing, bizarre but hilarious place to spend some time. We re-reviewed it when it went free to play a few months ago. It's better than ever. We can't wait to see what Valve do with TF2 next.
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